Innovative agricultural initiatives launched in Brunei Darussalam, such as developing new rice hybrids and growing plants in water, underline how agro-technology can edge the Sultanate closer to its goal of food self-sufficiency.
Figures released by the Department of Agriculture and Agrifood (DAA) in November showed that the agrifood sector, which excludes livestock and crops, made up nearly 30% of the overall industry in 2013, with a total value of $86.2m representing a 37% increase year-on-year. Between 2009 and 2012, the agrifood industry represented 22-23% of the sector.
While Brunei is about the size of Bangkok, three quarters of the Sultanate’s 526,500 ha is under forest cover, of which the government has allowed only 1%, or 5895 ha, for agricultural use. The limited availability of land has meant that agri-tech programmes in rice cultivation and fish farming have played a key role in increasing domestic output.
The agriculture sector’s share of GDP is 0.72% and employs just 1.4% of the population, estimated at 425,000. Further growth is important for a nation that is dependent on imported foods that account for as much as 80% of the national food supply. The sultanate imports most of its rice requirements from Thailand and has recently started purchasing from Vietnam and Cambodia.
This has prompted ambitious targets: the government wants to achieve 60% self-sufficiency in rice by 2015 compared with the current level of 5%, as well as a 170% growth in fisheries to $187.7m by 2023 and increasing the value of the livestock segment to $140m.
Ministers have admitted that previous rice self-sufficiency targets were a “tall-order” but inroads are being made, albeit small ones. The minister of industry and primary resources (MIPR), YB Pehin Dato Hj Yahya, recently announced near self-sufficiency in its poultry and egg industry, and more than 80% self-sufficiency in seafood products and tropical vegetables,
Boosting rice yields
Rice innovation is an important part of Brunei's agricultural development. The country is working closely with its neighbours on various programmes and building new facilities such as the recently-opened plant in Kg Wasan, situated in the north of the state. The rice-milling facility, which removes the husk and the bran layers from paddy rice, opened in August and is capable of producing 5800 metric tonnes of rice per year. But officials say another site is needed.
“This new complex has a grind capacity of 3.5 metric tonnes ... and if used all the time, will enable us to achieve 20% (self-sufficiency in) rice production. In order for us to (attain) the 60% (rice self-sufficiency rate), we will have to build a high capacity centre which can produce up to 7.5 metric tonnes per hour,” said the MIPR minister, YB Pehin Dato Hj Yahya.
To boost output a new hybrid rice, titih, which can increase yields from 2 to 3 tonnes per ha to the 3.8-8.7 tonnes per ha range, is being deployed.
In a further bid to increase the productivity level of its rice fields, Malaysia has agreed to help Brunei with a $6m project − which will be part-funded by the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) − drawing on the technology know-how of its neighbour.
“Brunei has the ambition to become self sufficient in rice production and Malaysia has the technology, the expertise and the willingness to share,” said Kunrat Wirasubrata, acting director of the IDB Group Regional Office, as quoted by local media.
Growing food in water
One nascent area of development being explored is farming techniques based on aquaponics, a system of growing plants and aquatic species such as fish and prawns in water, eliminating the need for soil and also fertilisers − often a source of worry for farmers.
Local agro-technology company BfB confirmed on November 3 that it was collaborating with government agencies to introduce aquaponics in Brunei to promote sustainable farming and food security. The technology would allow people to grow food and vegetables in outdoor ponds or in an aquarium inside their house.
BfB has been given 1 ha of land on Jalan Lampaki at Kg Mulaut by the MIPR to carry out farming projects, and also plans to open a factory in Serasa where an aquaponics garden will be installed on the rooftop.